Long before Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter was a book-turned-Hollywood-movie, there was Abraham Lincoln, the right arm of Lucifer himself. Or so thought Adalbert Johann Volck, a German-born supporter of the Confederacy, who drew political cartoons during the Civil War under the pseudonym V. Blada. A dentist by trade, he secretly published a number of scathing, Union-critical drawings. Here, he depicts Lincoln sitting on a chair, on the back of which is carved an ass’s head. As the devil holds his inkwell, Lincoln writes the Emancipation Proclamation. As celebrated as the Proclamation is today, it was nothing if not controversial at the time. The order was decried by many to be a gross abuse of executive power, shown here by Lincoln trampling the Constitution with his foot.
Cartoons have long been popular mediums for social commentary, dating back to the 1700s. The William L. Clements Library holds a vast collection of American graphic satire, illustrating myriad social issues in addition to slavery. “Bloomerism in Practice,” for example, depicts a house in disarray after suffrage-minded women return from a rally (the artist is unknown). Victor Gillam’s colorful illustration, “The reason why pauper immigration is not restricted,” shows a number of people benefitting from the arrival of an impoverished immigrant—from the steamship owner who pockets his fare, to the cheap labor contractor who profits from the immigrant’s backbreaking work.
Some of the images may be more than 100 years old, but the themes they explore—from women’s rights to immigration to how much power the president should have—are certainly evergreen.